Friday, June 28, 2013

Jim is in southern Vermont, vacationing with his in-laws. In recent years, mountains have replaced the sea (that would be Maine) as the destination of choice, though he tends not to get too close to either. Instead, most of the traveling is interior (that would be books). Summer reading for this trip -- the assigned summer book for his school -- is Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. This 2007 book is considered Diaz's debut novel, but it's one that had a long gestation with a writer who first emerged as a literary star on the strength of his 1996 collection of related stories, Drown. Both books feature Dominican characters toggling between their native island and the states -- here more likely to be the suburbs of New Jersey than NYC. In its emphasis on migration back and forth, and a diaspora that moves beyond the city, Diaz's work reflects the contemporary accents of the immigration saga of the Americas, a saga in which Latinos currently occupy center stage. A stage which increasingly includes places like the previously lily-blanco environs of northern New England

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is an ambitious work of art that blends politics (notably that of the brutal Trujillo regime of the mid-20th century, aided and abetted by the U.S.), myth, and a vivid cast of inter-generational characters. But what really sets it apart is Diaz's unique voice, in which sinuous English prose is peppered with profane Spanish slang, much of circling around a fluid politics of race that has a distinctively Latino tint. It's a tour de force piece of writing, and the herald of a new, browner world.

But for now, an interval in the Green (Mountains).